As someone who gained early professional experience in the fast-paced, delivery driven world of Silicon Valley high tech, I haven’t always understood the value of space in a product launch roadmap. In fact, in the early days we prided ourselves on squeezing out every ounce of development productivity to “hit the date”. We didn’t spend time ideating or iterating before shipping our products.
Today’s world is vastly different with countless experts speaking to the value of prototyping and testing, customer discovery and development, and ensuring a product-market fit before launch. Yet many Founders and Startups still set off on the wrong path and end up producing the same outcomes we’ve all been warned about. This ultimately leads them to cost overruns, technical debt and an underwhelming product in the marketplace.
Recently I had the pleasure of talking with a new Founder who possessed a lot of the right things to begin to lay the groundwork for his startup. He did discovery, developed a lean business model, created a brand, developed some high-fidelity sketches of the user interface, promoted the idea on Facebook, got a bunch of ‘likes’ and then decided it’s time to build.
When he came to me he brought all of this and his passion but he couldn’t tell me his strategy and he didn’t have any customers that validated his idea. He just wanted to start developing the mobile application.
It was as if he read a lean startup playbook and then re-wrote the last chapter.
Without a strategy for on-boarding new users and an understanding of the features and functions that make his application “sticky”, he was at risk of losing all of his investment.
Been There, Done That
Years ago a colleague and I set out to develop his idea for an Enterprise SaaS solution poised to disrupt the globalization space. We were both trained in agile and operated as scrum masters for large, high technology companies and applied that to our endeavor. What we didn’t do is bring in customer discovery and development, and when we went to pitch at our first demo day it was apparent we were overbuilding, overspending and on the path to burnout. In fact, we were told so! It was hard to hear and such an impactful experience that it shifted my career trajectory.
Doing Things Differently
Years later I participated in a user experience workshop for a client. Our objective was to re-flow the key feature of a robust mobile application in one week’s time with the goal to create measured efficiency in the user workflow.
Week one came and went. We had some rough sketches across all areas of the application with a lot of open questions and a pressing need to “deliver”.
Week two came and while we dove a little deeper into each area, answering some questions and generating new ones… essentially in the same place as two weeks’ prior.
By the time week three came I was scheduled to head to a planned international vacation… and what perfect timing that was!
After two weeks away (despite my self-induced anxiety about being away), I came back full of energy and a fresh perspective. Team members who were required to take a break due to my absence were ready to dive in and tackle something they had a chance to reflect upon.
Although we couldn’t admit it at first, removing ourselves of deadlines and perceived progress empowered us to thoughtfully approach the task at hand with a new strategy, focused priority, and timely execution. Our interactive prototype was delivered just before the holidays, taking just 6 weeks from concept to demo for an important investor pitch.
Most of the time pressure can be motivating. Sometimes, especially if we are doing something new and innovative under a hard and fast deadline, pressure can be an obstacle to productivity.
Let’s remember this lesson as we run fast and hard these last few months of the year. Sometimes taking a step back is a great way to reset, allowing ourselves time to iterate approaches and consider options before spending more time and money on something half-baked.
Sometimes space surfaces a path leading to a solution.
Remember that in order to proactively validate that a development approach is worth the investment, we must take a step back to catapult forward.
About The Author
Shelley Iocona is a product strategist helping startups and enterprises innovate. Her approach to building great products is based on the belief that ideas should be validated using a lean approach before development begins, and that having the right team is pivotal to a company’s success.
Before founding ON ITS AXIS, Shelley held leadership roles at companies such as Outcast Media (now Verifone Media), Yahoo, Connexity (formerly Shopzilla/Bizrate), DIRECTV, and led product strategy and lean product development for numerous start-ups and incubators.
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